banishing the bad

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t explain that correctly.”

Although the comment isn’t directed at me, I can’t help but hear the comment, note how instead of blaming the person doing the task incorrectly, our person in charge is taking responsibility as she corrects the problem.

I continue to paint the wall in front of me, but my thoughts are of another work site, where I was in the process of repainting a skull and replacing it on a facade.

“Wow.  That’s horrible,” my  boss says from below my ladder.

It wasn’t what I was used to.  At all.  If it had been said to someone else, I might have protested his words.  But it was said to me, and I wanted to do a good job, so I tried to laugh it off and figure out what about the task was wrong.

This was one of my first days working for him.  It set the tone for the next seven years – criticism, sometimes couched in ‘oh you know I’m kidding’, and praise/compliments mostly offered when there was no other audience but me.

I love having the opportunity to help create scenes, environments.  Usually that’s within the walls of a haunted house.  I’d fallen in love with this haunt and I was eager for the opportunity to work here as often as possible.  Indeed, it was this haunt that had set me on the path to becoming “Halloween Girl” more so than any other haunt project or commitment I’d taken on up to that point in my life.

Part of the appeal was that I was working for a friend.

I didn’t know at the time that I was actually working for a narcissist.

What that means, for me, is that I spent those years on a roller coaster of praise and abuse.  I could do anything; I was mostly useless. I was one of his best friends; the more I hurt, the more he wanted to hurt me.  The people that worked this haunt were a family; I wasn’t supposed to talk to them about much of anything. The stories and the rules changed depending on the audience, and while hindsight makes it all very clear, the day to day process of living with it is bewildering.

Here’s the really hard thing:  This all happened me to before the average person knew the definition of  ‘narcissistic personality disorder.’ On one hand, when I walked away from that job, I knew I would be cyberstalked, so it changed many of the ways I handle myself online (including why I am being admittedly vague, and even still I’m having a hard time hitting ‘publish’), and I grew to learn that people that were paying attention weren’t believing the smear campaign that still goes on to this day.  Which is typical for a narcissist.

More deeply rooted, and the bigger surprise, was the unexpected PTSD.  I found that had lost a lot of my confidence, my ability to trust my coworkers.  When Bones and I started our haunt and were building the show, I struggled a lot with an unexpected need for reassurance.  And when I started working at the theatre, I discovered that I was shocked to hear people treating each other with respect.  That it was ok to take a break.  That the way I used to treat my fellow crew members was actually the *norm* rather than something to be mocked.  That mistakes weren’t met with, “Wow, that’s horrible,” or other demeaning critical comments, or compliments at the moment followed by negativity muttered to other ears.

I am lucky in that I’ve worked with people that understand why I have PTSD.  They’ve known the players in my story. They’ve been able to  tell by the look on my face when I’ve stopped hearing them and started hearing the past.  Sometimes I feel like every job offers one more bit of healing. And sometimes it’s really hard to not just walk around hugging people that are being genuinely kind to each other on a work site.

 

 

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19 convention attendees were sent to the hospital – news media thinks it’s funny

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Over the weekend, friends of mine in east coast fandom started sharing news links about attendees of Fur Fest being evacuated from their convention hotel because of a deliberate release of chlorine gas into the hotel space. Fandom was pissed, and for good reason.

Details of the criminal act:

The Hyatt-Regency in Rosemont was completely evacuated at roughly 1AM. (For those of us that have attended TransWorld?  Yes, it’s that Rosemont.)  Guests sought shelter in nearby hotels and in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.  19 attendees ended up going to the hospital. Powdered chlorine was found in a stairwell on the 9th floor of the hotel.  Firefighters on the scene reported that there was a reading “as high as 20.6 on the chlorine meter” and also stated that “whatever the substance is, it is overloading our chlorine meter.”

To give you an idea of how bad a rating of 20.6ppm is?  Let’s go back to Wikipedia, because this article references a bunch of stuff I was already going to include….  “Chlorine is a toxic gas that irritates the respiratory system. Because it is heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Chlorine gas is a strong oxidizer, which may react with flammable materials.[67] Chlorine is detectable with measuring devices in concentrations of as low as 0.2 parts per million (ppm), and by smell at 3 ppm. Coughing and vomiting may occur at 30 ppm and lung damage at 60 ppm. About 1000 ppm can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas.[24] Breathing lower concentrations can aggravate the respiratory system, and exposure to the gas can irritate the eyes.[68] The toxicity of chlorine comes from its oxidizing power. When chlorine is inhaled at concentrations above 30 ppm, it begins to react with water and cells, which change it into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HClO).” And the CDC cautions, “Hazardous concentrations may develop quickly in enclosed, poorly-ventilated, or low-lying areas. Keep out of these areas.”

If you’re wondering what it was like to be there, here’s one attendee’s story of what it was like to try to get off the 9th floor via the stairwell.

So having this crap in a stairwell that people were forced to use during the hotel evacuation?  Really bad news. 

Ok.  So someone exposed a bunch of convention attendees to a hazardous gas.  Good reason for fandom to be pissed off.

So why the hell was my Facebook news feed flooded on Tuesday with stories about reporters laughing about this story?

Because Fur Fest is a fandom convention for “people who are interested in the concept of fictional non-human characters with human characteristics.

These folk are more commonly known as “furries”..some of the most maligned people in fandom.

If you’ve ever been in downtown Pittsburgh in June or July, you may well have seen this charming sector of fandom running around the city in mascot-esque costumes during the weekend run of Anthrocon.  It’s rather adorable, actually…the variety of detail and creativity in the costuming is lovely to see.  One collection of photos can be found here. And if you have either never heard of a furry or you think it’s some deviant sex group, I strongly encourage you to go take a look through that album, or any of the others on Anthrocon’s site.

Fur Fest is one of the largest conventions of its kind, warmly received by the Hyatt-Regency, whose Twitter feed shows some great love and support for Fur Fest. (Really, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a convention hotel be so sweet to a con. I mean, really..themed meal options?  A free room contest?  This hotel is pretty awesome!)

This convention had roughly 4,600 attendees from 15 different countries.

According to Furfest’s website, “Our charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, was able to raise $11,000 by charitable donations from our attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc., our parent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Part of our core mission is to raise money for animal focused charities in the Midwest.”  HOLY POOP THAT’S GREAT!!

But what do most people know about the event?

They know that reporters over on MSNBC responded to a story about 19 people being sent to the hospital as a result of a criminal act by laughing on the air and having one of their reporters run off camera because she couldn’t deal with the idea of people wearing fur suits.

How far is this, really, from the media making fun of fandom and costuming of any sort?

Why does it suddenly not matter that 19 people went to the hospital?

Oni Hartstein rather brilliantly summed up the story with the question, “It’s ok to commit terrorism toward children if you don’t like them?”  

Victoria McNally wrote a much more detailed description of the story than I have here in her blog post over on TheMarySue.com, entitled, “Let’s Stop Making Jokes About Furries While Discussing That Recent Terrorist Attack on Furries.”

You should read those posts.  These women make some fantastic points.

And then think, really think, about what this story, and the sadly common public reaction to this story, is saying.

Because, while this is a very dramatic story?  It’s not an isolated incident sort of story.  Fire alarms get pulled at conventions to force con attendees out of hotels and into the street..sometimes to try to ’embarrass’ the costumed attendees, sometimes to evict attendees that don’t have hotel rooms.  I’ve read a lot of stories today about what sometimes happens at conventions, and I’m appalled at what people are doing to my fellow geeks.

Most of my fellow con goers can tell me of at least one convention they’ve attended where there was another group of people in the same hotel that didn’t appreciate sharing hotel space with fandom or haunters.  We’ve seen the looks of disapproval and we’ve heard the grumblings.  It’s not hard at all to imagine a repeat of what happened at Fur Fest last weekend.

If you have something you love enough to attend a convention to celebrate?  Do not think for a second that your convention is immune from something like this.  The only way that works is if we stop trying to decide who ‘counts’ – which passion is ok to have and which one isn’t good enough.

Each of us, every single one of us, has an interest, a something we love that makes us a geek.

Stop saying that your love makes you better than anyone else.

Once we get to that point?  Crap like this stops happening.

(If you’re appalled at what happened on MSNBC, TELL THEM letters@msnbc.com)

because i still have questions (big surprise)

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* http://thegeekiary.com/dashcon-follow-up-random-acts-partnership-didnt-exist-but-was-it-really-a-scam/14786

One of the data points that’s floated around a little about Dashcon was that the event had a partnership with charity group Random Acts.  The stated intent of Dashcon was to collect money to donate back to Random Acts.  It’s a cute idea, though I personally think it sounds a little confusing, but the fate of these donations is one of the things we’ve actually not heard about in the kerfluffle updates.  It does speak to the good intentions of Dashcon, and I hope the final news shows that some money did make it back to Random Acts.

* http://www.nerdandtie.com/2014/07/14/dashcon-a-perfect-storm-of-incompetence/

This article is by yet another person with a lot of convention experience and it breaks down the money numbers as well as ‘here’s how hotel contracts work.’  One quote I found very useful:

‘Now say only 500 people were there. That’s the low number I’ve seen tossed about for Friday, and someone correct me if I’m wrong. Well, $50 time 500 attendees is $25,000. If the higher figure of 1000 attendees were there, that’s $50,000. This does not include the higher rates paid by Vendors and Artists.

My point is, really, how were they not able to pay their bills? I’ve run conventions larger than that with a lot less money than $50,000.’

There’s no info there about the room block question I personally  have, however.  After some more thought, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that the reason invited con guests found themselves paying for their own rooms was that the con staff might have assumed those rooms were included in the debt owed for the room blocks – in short, they might have thought they’d already paid for those rooms when the hotel said, “You didn’t fulfill the terms of the contract – pay up.”  This seems the most likely reason, rather than my initial thought which was that the con staff panicked and pulled those rooms off their credit card so they could pay off the hotel.  This is of course assuming that they used the same PayPal card used to pay the hotel and that this card isn’t a debit card.

Why would it matter if they used a debit card?
Because it’s standard policy for hotels to put a hold/deposit on such cards.  Here’s one article explaining whyHere’s another, that explains luxury hotels may put a charge on the debit card that is more than the room cost would be because they include incidentals as well as the room. And yet another article talks about the very real possibility of accidental overdrafts.  We already know from con staff that the hotel had agreed to let the staff use the PayPal card and take payments in $3K increments, because of the limit on the card…which, personally, makes me wonder:  If the hotel already knew it wasn’t going to get $17K Friday night, did all this chaos really have to happen in the first place?  Agreeing to wait shows they were willing to negotiate…and they’d have to wait anyway for funds to clear, which (as those of us that use PayPal know) needs a few days to happen.

Anyway.  It’s probably a moot point, because no charges appear to have been put on the con PayPal card, because the guests were being expected to pay.  Which leads me back to the hopeful thought that maybe the con assumed these debts had been included in the $17K/$20K/whatever they actually owed the hotel.

* http://lielabell.tumblr.com/post/91674359898/the-deal-with-dashcon

This is one con attendee’s review.  Unlike what Twitter reports, not all attendees were kids – “Lielabell” is in her 30s.  She also headed up one of the panels.  This is a pretty balanced bit of writing, IMO.  She also talks about people being locked out of their rooms, which is not new information.  Nor is it unique to Dashcon.  In general, I’m surprised when my key card works, no matter what hotel I’m in or for what reason.  Turns out there’s a few different reasons why that can happen, and some of them are news to me.

Mentalfloss.com reports:

Any arriving guest should receive what are referred to as initial keys, which are programmed to reset the door lock when they are first inserted, deactivating all previous keys. Not until the keys expire or a new initial key enters the lock will the keys fail to work. With a “key bomb,” I cut one single initial key and then start over and cut a second initial key. Either one of them will work when you get to the room, and as long as you keep using the very first key you slipped in, all will be well.

But chances are you’ll pop in the second key at some point, and then the first key you used will be considered invalid.

Tripadvisor.com says:

I found out on my cruise last year – because my card kept having to be reprogrammed – that the culprit is often a woman’s purse that has a magnetic clasp. You pull the card out, pass it over the magnetic clasp, and voile!, non-working key card.

The Toronto Sun suggests you take a look at the colour of your key card (?!?):

A key card with a brown stripe on the back — the kind used by most hotels — is the one most likely to give guests trouble, and prompt a return to the lobby to have it re-encoded, Portuguese says. These are the cheapest cards to make, and easily become de-activated if they’re placed too close to anything magnetic.

ask.metafilter.com goes into a fairly lengthy discussion about all the things that can turn off a hotel key card, including celphones, and talks about how common the issue is, but this quote is maybe the most telling:

I have worked in the hotel business and have made, at a guess, eleventeen million key cards for guests.

You must keep in mind that these cards are pretty flimsy pieces of plastic with a single, not-especially-robust magnetic strip, and they have been used by dozens or hundreds of guests before you. They do not hold a charge particularly well: imagine a video or audio cassette that has been taped over for the 245th time — how good is the signal? They cease working for any of a dozen reasons, simple wear and tear being the most common. From the point of view of the designers of the keycards and the hotels, this is a feature, not a bug….

in a perfect set-up, your card runs out at noon (or whatever the hotel sets it so) on your date of checkout, not every day. You check in Monday, you leave Thursday. If you come back Friday with the same card, it will be inert. There is no value for anyone in making your card stop working on Tuesday or Wednesday. (Note, of course, that the hotel can cancel a keycard at any time for emergencies — say you neglected to sign your credit card slip when you arrived or something — having to return to the front desk to get a new card means they can also get you to sign the slip).
In light of that and the money issues around Dashcon..is it possible the hotel turned off the key cards to staff rooms because they wanted to make sure the rooms were being paid for?  Yes, it’s possible. It’s not the most LIKELY reason, but it’s possible.  I had to really search for that quote above, leading me to believe key cards being turned off by the hotel over money issues is pretty uncommon. I think it far more likely that the lack of information and the issues around the con combined with faulty key cards to convince people the hotel was being shady, despite an overwhelming amount of stories circulating around the internet that hotel staff and security was both nice and bewildered by what was happening.

(Along this line:  Did you know the hotel had (a) listed Dashcon on its website under ‘Events’ months in advance – meaning that other events would in theory know there was a convention that weekend – and (b) there was a non-refundable one night room charge for all reservations?  Link here.)

So, as far as people saying that the hotel did those kids wrong?  I remain unconvinced.

* a statement from the owners of Dashcon is coming

If that statement does anything other than take responsibility for what happened….WITHOUT trying to blame the hotel, the guests, the bank, the deflating ball pit, whatever….and offer some sort of accounting for the money…….they shouldn’t bother.  Of course, in my far from humble opinion, this statement is already too late.

* random twitter stuff that has been bugging me for days

As the Dashcon kefluffle went down, I was watching Twitter.  There was some really stupid, nasty, unnecessary stuff flying around out there bashing the attendees – completely unnecessary – and poking fun at  all these ‘white kids’ being taken for $17K.  I still fail to understand why things got racial.  I’ve heard that the crowd was fairly mixed, which I would believe..just as it’s obvious the con was not just attended by teenagers.

A lot of crap was said, of course, like the claim that underage attendees were being let into 18-and-over panels.  (The very presence of such panels should negate the claims that it was just a kiddie con, but that may be too much logical thinking to expect from trolls.)  The bit I didn’t get at all was the repeated, “I am suffering second hand embarrassment from Dashcon.”  I gather that this is now a thing.  A ridiculous thing that makes me want to slap people.

Dashcon staff suggested, at their Sunday Q&A panel, that attendees not read any of these tweets and such.  Considering the troll activity going on?  I can understand that bit of advice.  I can certainly understand attendees being very emotional about their experience.  There was, and is, a lot to react to.  Frankly, seeing the tweets from the con from kids cheering themselves on for saving their convention…again/yet/still, something that should NEVER have happened.  But mocking attendees for loving an event?  Low blow, trolls.

It really does infuriate me that the attendees of this con – the attendees of ANY con – are mocked for being at an event celebrating something they love and meeting like-minded people.  I have zero ability to understand such mean-spiritedness.  What I’m seeing is that a lot of the attendees don’t seem to have the lifeskills to be able to handle dealing with that nastiness, and part of the reason I’m still writing about this trainwreck of a convention is that I worry about those younger members of fandom.

I keep saying this…no convention should ever ask its attendees to pay for the con’s financial woes.

Hand in hand with that?  Just because you had a great time at a convention doesn’t mean the convention treated you well.  A weekend-long chance to meet other fen is a good time.  No doubt.  It doesn’t mean that you give money to these con organizers again.  They haven’t proved worthy of your trust OR your money.

Don’t let the trolls get you down.

Do find an event that deserves your support.

national bullying awareness month: ‘don’t be a monster’ anti-bullying campaign

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I think it’s safe to say that we all pretty much get bullying = bad.

What we don’t get is what to do about it.

That’s a sobering graphic.  It shows, very matter-of-factly, that it’s not just the act of bullying that’s the problem…it’s how we react to the bully/the bullying that contributes to the situation.  In my experience as being both a child and – for the past 4 years – as an adult that’s been bullied, there are way too many people in categories B, C, D, E, and F.  The pain of being bullied often has more to do with those categories than the one bully ringleader.

So we’re told to ignore the bully and the situation will stop, and those of us that have tried that know it doesn’t work.  A good bully has all those other sycophants participating, consciously or not, in the hurt, and the more you hurt? The more they enjoy what they’re doing.

What does help?  Being willing to say, “That’s not ok,” and standing up to bad behavior.

And that’s a large part of what the Don’t be a Monster campaign is all about.

This campaign, using the slogan “monsters belong in haunted houses,” is working on bringing free 30-minute anti-bullying presentations to varied schools across the country.  Some of the haunters involved in this are people I’m proud to say I know and have worked with, and I’m wicked proud of them for this project.

You can find this campaign on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dont-Be-A-Monster, or online at http://www.dontbeamonster.org/.  Drop them a note if you want to help them succeed, or if you’d like more information.

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